I’ve been sitting on this post for the last several months. Not quite sure I could coherently articulate the confusion and rage I’m feeling about the current state of law enforcement in our country.
Here’s my story as it relates to my interaction with law enforcement.
I wanted to be one. As early as I can remember, I wanted to be a cop. I watched “Adam-12” religiously and yearned for the day I would be the one upholding all that is good and decent in our society.
As a young man, I bought a scanner and became immersed in police culture. When I turned 15 I decided I wanted to be an Explorer (Boy Scout program) for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. My dad drove me to the local sheriff’s station, I met with a deputy and learned about the program. I was on fire….
As we drove home, my dad was unusually quiet, but finally said this. “Son, I’ll support whatever you want to do, but I think you are too smart to get into this line of work. Not only that, but cops tend to develop an ‘Us against Them’ mentality that I’d hate to see you become part of.”
I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I respected my fathers opinion a great deal and I eventually turned my interest to the Fire Department (goodbye “Adam-12”, hello “Emergency”) and it seemed that dad was reluctantly more accepting of this decision.
LONG story short: I became a Fire Department Explorer with LA County Fire…became a Paramedic in my early 20’s and ultimately served 16 years with a Fire Department, retiring in 2003 at the rank of Fire Captain.
Here’s how this ties into law enforcement. As a firefighter/paramedic…I was one of “Us”.
We, along with law enforcement, were on the front lines of saving lives and property and protecting the public. Those that would hinder our efforts were “Them” and they were to be mistrusted and dealt with as the threat to the fabric of our society we thought they were.
In my 26 years in public safety, I witnessed a great deal of illegal and often abusive behavior towards citizens at the hands of law enforcement. And I did nothing. In fact, I supported it. These were “bad” people and they were deserving of the street justice meted out at the hands of the cops. That’s just how it is when you’re one of “Us”…
Then I left that field. Prior to leaving I sensed a paradigm shift in public safety after 9/11. Suddenly public safety folks…cops and firefighters were “heroes”…and what I saw before I left was an unrealistic change in self-awareness in these fields. Cops and firefighters were becoming caricatures of themselves…they began to buy into the invincible, hero-worship syndrome and became increasingly arrogant and dangerous. Not all, but some…and as an institution, for me, the shift was undeniable.
Here’s the disclaimer before I go further: I’m painting with a broad brush here, and my exit from the fire department was the direct result of a (now resolved) problem with alcohol that, while not directly affecting my job, led to my employer asking me to resign. So take that into consideration as you evaluate my thoughts. Not all cops and not all firefighters are bad, or are anywhere near the way I’m portraying some in my experience. They both do an incredibly difficult, and yes heroic, job under quite difficult and anguishing conditions. Sadly, they have become victims on their respective institutions…
Here’s my beef. It’s the culture…the institution. It’s changed.
Us against Them had become Them against Us…
We, as taxpayers in a civil society, create law enforcement institutions to protect our communities. They are our employees and they work for us. At some point, the institution of law enforcement has forgotten this basic fact…
When two NYPD officers were killed, the rank-and-file openly showed their disgust for their boss, Mayor DeBlasio at the funeral services of these officers. They can disagree with the Mayor’s policies all day long, but the level of disrespect they showed the mayor is equal to the level of disrespect they show the taxpayer…their employers.
They’ve become entitled with an Us against Them attitude that literally leads to a “shoot first and ask questions later” mentality. We, as their employers, have allowed it to happen.
To be clear, this is not a 9/11 response syndrome. Police brutality and misconduct has been widespread for generations. The paradigm shift in recognition has been the direct result of technology…specifically cell phone cameras.
The officer that shot and killed an unarmed black man is the sentinel example. Here’s a case where a white officer shoots a black motorist after a traffic stop. The official story, a story that has been repeated countless times for decades in this country, is that the “suspect”…the black man, reached for the officer’s gun/taser. The reality, as caught on video, is quite different. We see the officer shooting a fleeing man in the back, then planting his taser on the man. If not for the video, the officer is back on patrol instead of facing murder charges.
If not for the video…
Law enforcement personnel have for years been allowed to cross the line, break the rules, stretch the truth. They have collectively lost all credibility. They have been allowed to be the alpha dog and escalate otherwise non-violent encounters into fatal and tragic events. A man is killed for selling cigarettes in New York. A 12 year old boy is shot for having a pellet gun in a park in Ohio.
And now this. Feras Morad…an honor student from one of my local high schools and community colleges, decided to try mushrooms one night in Long Beach. A dumb decision for sure, but one which was punished by the death penalty in Long Beach.
The African American community has dealt with this racial genocide for years. And we didn’t listen.
If the cold blooded murder of Mr. Morad doesn’t provoke outrage, then we deserve the fascist law enforcement that we have allowed to exist for far too long.
RIP Mr. Morad. I’m so so sorry, you became one of Us…